A pioneer of ICT in schools and general secretary of Naace talks to Dorothy Walker
Even before computers arrived in the classroom, Steve Bacon was pioneering the concept of embedding ICT in the curriculum. That was back in the 1970s, and he has since played a major role in helping turn the concept into reality.
At the end of this month, Steve steps down after five years as general secretary of Naace, the association for those who work to advance education through ICT, which he helped create two decades ago. On the eve of his retirement he can look back on a 35-year career marked not only by innovation, but also by unstinting service to fellow professionals.
Steve first discovered the power of ICT in 1970, when, as head of maths at Wood Green School in Witney, he attended a one-day course on the use of computers given by IT company ICL. "I knew absolutely nothing about computers, but that day I discovered just how powerful they could be," he says. "I realised they could provide my students with an amazing way of exploring maths."
He put together a syllabus for a maths and computing course for 14 to 16-year-olds, and began teaching it after securing approval from the regional exam board. "It was pretty groundbreaking stuff," he says. "But I soon realised computer studies was going to be a big thing in its own right, so I followed up by writing a computer studies syllabus, one of the first in the country."
The course employed material from ICL's Computer Education in Schools project (CES), and in 1974 Steve joined ICL full time. "I had been nagging people at ICL about the fact that computers were being associated only with maths, whereas computing was really about information," he explains.
"Eventually they called my bluff."
Steve led the development of new resources which focused on processing information rather than number-crunching. They included an information handling module, which could be slotted into a range of subjects.
In 1981, he became IT adviser for Derbyshire LEA. "The authority was extraordinarily visionary," he says. "There was a Derbyshire educational software centre and a curriculum project in which 15 subject teachers were exploring how ICT could make an impact in their areas."
Highlights included the creation of My World software, designed to help children with special needs express themselves by making pictures on screen. It went on to become one of the best-known software titles of the next decade.
In 1984, Steve attended a meeting of the country's 30 IT advisers, organised as a forum for swapping ideas on where technology was heading in schools.
"I was one of two or three people charged with looking at whether we needed an association that could help us provide mutual support, and that was how Naace was born," he remembers.
He attended every Naace conference and served on the executive committee every year until 2000, when he left Derbyshire LEA to take up his full-time post with the association. "Spending five years as general secretary has been nothing short of a dream," he says.
Another dream is being fulfilled through the work of the Mamelodi Trust, the charity Steve and his wife Mary established to offer support to schools in the South African township of Mamelodi in Pretoria. In 1997, having taken up an invitation to visit Mamelodi's Zakhele school, Steve was "shattered and appalled" by the deprivation he witnessed. He says: "The school was a brick building with 600 children and their teachers, and almost nothing else. No books, no pictures - nothing except a jam jar for doing science experiments. I left in tears."
Since then the Trust has not only helped provide a wealth of resources and facilities - Jincluding a computer room - but also helped Zakhele's staff and pupils extend their horizons by reaching out to make new friends and colleagues overseas. Steve and Mary Bacon now hope to spend some time helping out at the school. "Everyone at Zakhele has insisted on treating us as honoured guests," says Steve. "Now we would like to help them get on with their work."